Black Friday and Cyber Monday are some of the best days of the year to use your credit card, especially if you’re buying in bulk and taking advantage of rewards programs. Unfortunately, identity thieves are well aware of this fact and on the lookout for easy prey.
Even worse, the Black Friday fever may lead you down a road of risky purchases, which could tank your credit score faster than any hijacked card.
Not keen on starting the Christmas season with regrets instead of presents? Lucky for you, we’ve got tons of advice for smart shopping during Black Friday and beyond. The key to emerging from the post-Thanksgiving weekend with your credit intact is vigilance: watch your credit card, watch your credit reports, and watch your spending habits.
1. Watch Your Credit Card
Keep a literal eye on your card so nobody has a chance to swipe it out of your jacket pocket in the middle of the savings-crazy chaos. Identity thieves aren’t above staging a distraction to steal shoppers’ information, so be wary of any out-of-the ordinary behavior.
Store your card in your wallet, and make sure to carry around only one card at a time. Using one card will allow you to make the best of its rewards programs, and it’s definitely easier to track purchases made with a single credit card. If you have a chip card, use it! Chip credit and debit cards offer better encryption protection than traditional cards.
Before heading to the store, you should sign up for email alerts and do your product research— not only will you receive more coupons, you’ll also avoid swiping your card on shady purchases. Legitimate sellers will have legitimate deals, and seeing the deal beforehand gives you enough time to read the fine print and ensure that you’re not signing up for a scam or no-return policy.
If you’re planning on skipping the crowds and surfing the internet from home, the same advice applies. Nobody’s going to reach through your laptop and nick your wallet (which would be pretty terrifying in all honesty), but keeping purchases to a single card and researching sellers thoroughly before buying their products will allow you to avoid falling prey to bogus deals and help prevent extensive damage in the case that your information is stolen (which is pretty common with online shopping, unfortunately).
2. Watch Your Credit Reports
In the 2014 holiday season alone, consumers reported 1.7 billion dollars in losses to fraud and identity theft. The best way to prevent adding your funds to that massive deficit is by regularly reviewing your credit reports, bank statements, and credit card bills. You can monitor your credit report using a free seven day trial from Score Sense, or order your reports directly from the credit bureaus.
If you notice any strange expenses on your bills or inaccurate information on your reports, contact your provider immediately. The quicker you catch it, the smaller the damage to your credit. Identity theft can negatively impact your credit score in both the short-term and the long-term if you don’t catch it in time, so make sure you stay on top of your records during and after the holiday shopping season, especially if you’re shopping online.
3. Watch Your Spending Habits
Finally, keep an eye on yourself! It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the shopping season—the deals are incredible, everyone else is freaking out, and let’s be honest, shopping is fun.
However, as with any purchase, you should practice smart spending habits. Treat your credit card like debit: if you don’t have the money in the bank to cover the expense at the time of purchase, or not enough to cover the expense and your utility bills, put the card back in your wallet. If you can’t pay your credit card bill at the end of the month, your credit score WILL drop, maybe even dramatically, since payment history is a large factor in the FICO score formula.
Check the contents of your bank account before heading to the store, budget your gift ideas, and take advantage of the multitude of deals available online to save an extra buck on bulk purchases. Groupon has some great ones, especially if you’re planning a winter vacation.
Ultimately, investing in the happiness of your family and friends is important, but so is investing in your future. I’m sure your loved ones would be happiest knowing that your credit and your financial future are in good health. So stay vigilant and practice smart spending, and you should be well on your way to a holiday season of stress-free gift giving and stable credit!